Distractions are one of the greatest barriers that break our focus… well, not the distractions themselves, but us letting them in.

I’ve always been an idea generator, but when the time comes to take action I usually get distracted with 100 things at the time. I always have a movie, series or YouTube video running on the screen to my right, an email tab which I’m constantly checking, 3 or 4 chat channels (plus my phone), a bunch of open tabs with information I “want to read today”, and so on and so forth.

But today I closed everything (leaving just one chat channel, the one I use to communicate with my wife) and decided to focus on a task. I’m writing a book using emacs org-mode and wanted to learn how to export it using pandoc. I tried doing this in the past, but never dedicated a solid half hour to it.

Before going on with the story, I must say that this is not a priority at this moment, but it’s something that got me distracted every time I sat down to write, so I took a shot at it.

I’m not a focus expert, on the contrary, focus is one of those thing on my “required skills” list that’s always unchecked. But I’m trying to get better at it. I know that I can get laser focused when the task at hand is important and enjoyable enough. For crying out loud, I’ve recorded a full course in an afternoon because I got “in the zone”. I also took the contents of that course and converted them in my “Mastering Roda” book in less than 3 days!

But those kinds of situations are very rare for me. I won’t give you answers about how to be focused on this post, that would be hypocritical of me. What I’m gonna do is list what has worked for me so far. And, if I come across any other technique that works for me, I’ll document it as well. So, here it goes.

My techniques

  • The Pomodoro Technique: The pomodoro technique says that in order to be productive, you shouldn’t have focus periods greater than 25 minutes, separated by 5 minutes breaks. The focus periods should be 100% distraction free and a break is A BREAK, no work at all during those 5 minutes. After 3 cycles, the break should last 15 minutes instead of 5 (I’ll probably write more in depth about this in the future, please leave a comment asking for this if you want to know more). I could never follow the Pomodoro Technique for more than half a work day. As soon as I go to lunch, when I come back I usually can’t go back to Pomodoro for some reason.
  • Meditation or focus music: I’ve downloaded several mp3s of relaxing, study or focus music (usually found on YouTube). They last for between 2 and 6 hours. This keeps my “need to have noise” in check, but isn’t distracting enough to pull me out of what I’m doing. Most of the music I downloaded contains Binaural Beats (which, as far as my understanding goes, they are musical tones designed specifically to excite a specific part of the brain for, for example, focus). I’m not sure is the Binaural Beats really help, but I tend to get more focused with the downloaded music.
  • Hiding distractions: As said before, closing the browser and chat channels helps me avoid getting interrupted and losing my flow. I keep just one channel to talk to my wife in case there’s something important I need to know. I should also close this channel, but I don’t like losing communication with her, and less so if my kids are at home.
  • Changing the environment: Something that has worked for me in the past is going to a coffee shop and working there. This was only useful when working on content. It never helped me when coding; I have a desktop PC where I do all of my work and a laptop that I use once in a while. The Desktop PC has everything I need plus a great internet connection. If I go to a bar and I suddenly need to install a gem or a tool, there’s no certainty that I’ll have the means to do it, hence I waste a lot of time. On the other hand, for writing, this is an optimal scenario, if I don’t have a tool at hand, I just keep writing.

Those are the four things that come to mind that have helped me gain focus in the past. If you know about other techniques, I’d be delighted to try them, add a comment explaining it and I’ll give it a spin.

See you around.